Originally created 07/09/01

DVDS are probably in your future

"Just when I thought that I was out, they pull me back in."

- Michael Corleone, "The Godfather, Part III."

Francis Ford Coppola and Paramount Home Entertainment would like to pull you - your DVD player and $74.95 plus tax - back in, too.

At a party last month in Brooklyn, they announced the "Godfather" trilogy was coming to DVD in a five-disc set that will include the 1972 original and its two sequels plus three hours of extras, including original screen tests and rehearsals, a return to the New York streets that doubled as locations and Academy Award acceptance speeches.

The collection celebrating Corleones, cannoli and crime is due Oct. 9, and the only way to get the bonus material is to buy the set. The DVDs won't be sold separately, and the gangster goodies aren't available on VHS. That is the industry term for the regular old video format that holds your wedding ceremony or teen's early birthday parties or "The Sopranos" you taped last season.

DVD versions of many movies, such as "Cast Away," "Bamboozled" and the upcoming "Hannibal" and "Star Wars, Episode I - The Phantom Menace," are stocked with extras. Typical are director commentaries, interviews, scenes deleted before the theatrical release, music videos, games, documentaries and even hidden treats called "Easter eggs."

In case you've never seen a DVD, it looks just like a compact disc. It's anchored in a slender rectangular box, vs. the bulkier plastic container that holds a video.

It's the future. Or so the entertainment experts tell us.

With the release of "Thirteen Days," New Line Home Entertainment is unveiling a trademarked DVD format called infinifilm that allows pop-up menus to appear during the movie so you can click and "go beyond the movie."

You can save that stuff for later or pause and listen to the real presidential aide Kenneth O'Donnell, played by Kevin Costner, or watch how the 1960s White House set was created. The partially translucent menus are stripped across the bottom of the screen like subtitles.

New Line's research shows that the "early adopters" - the men (and they were largely men) who rushed out and bought the first DVD players - are being joined by middle- to higher-income buyers who enjoy movies. "It's definitely starting to penetrate into households with families," says Justine Brody, vice president of marketing for New Line.

"And now, DVD purchases are starting to be more driven by women, just like VHS," Brody adds. "It's just becoming more of a mainstream item."

All of which raises the questions: Are videotapes going the way of vinyl albums? Are they headed for garage sales or second-hand stores or a cobwebby corner of the basement?

Not just yet, but the writing is on the cassette box. And while some audiophiles maintain that vinyl provides a richer, deeper sound than CDs, no one would argue that video has superior picture and sound to DVD.

"I think the biggest surprise for new DVD buyers is that they can hear all of the dialogue far more clearly than they ever did before," says Martin Blythe of Paramount Home Entertainment. Of course, you need to have your DVD player hooked up to your stereo speakers to get the sharpest sound. Some consumers, in fact, use their DVD player as a CD player to listen to music.

Indeed, flexibility is a key selling point. DVD movies also can be played on almost any computer equipped with a ROM drive.

"And, obviously, the picture is much better as well," Blythe adds. "When you factor in the special features that we can fit on a DVD that we cannot fit on a VCR, you've got a very appetizing package for the public."

Sales figures back that up: When comparing the first five months of 2001 to the same period in 2000, sales of VCRs dropped nearly 30 percent. Sales of DVD players jumped almost 71 percent.

However, if you peek inside family and living rooms, VCRs still reign. VCRs are in 95 percent of U.S. households, while DVD players are in 15 percent, a figure that could climb to 20 percent by year's end.

Even as Blythe praises and promotes DVDs, he calls upon the famous Mark Twain quote to summarize what's happening with video: "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

"That's pretty much how we feel about VHS. Look, we're very excited about the rapid growth curve of DVD, but there are still millions of Americans who feel perfectly comfortable with VHS and who will probably stay that way. So, VHS is a significant part of our business, and we don't see it going away any time soon."

Families with shelves bursting with "Blue's Clues," Mary-Kate and Ashley videos or Disney cartoons are especially wedded to the format. Children can drop a tape into an overnight bag, take it to grandma's and reasonably expect they will find a VCR there to play it.

While the year-to-year comparisons are impressive, the raw numbers reflect both the low prices of VCRs and loyalty and familiarity with the format. More than 5.7 million VCRs were sold during the first 21 weeks of this year, compared with nearly 3.5 million DVD players.

That's not surprising considering the average cost of a VCR last year was $81, a tenth of the highest price charged back in the '70s, when it was introduced. The average for a DVD player was $202, less than half of the introductory price.

Marcy Magiera, editor of the weekly Video Business magazine, says just as CDs and audiocassettes co-existed, so will these formats until DVD permanently pulls ahead in the home entertainment race. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP predicts DVD sales will outdistance tape sales in 2003, while rentals will flip-flop in 2004.


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